Between now and preseason, we’ll be breaking down the Jets’ undrafted rookies. Today, we break down former Duke and Texas Tech safety Marquis “Muddy” Waters in detail.
The 24-year old Waters is listed at 6’1” and 215 pounds and played in 66 games over six seasons in his college career, racking up over 300 tackles. He was an honorable mention all-Big 12 selection last season.
Waters was a three-star safety recruit out of high school, where he also ran track and played some running back. He opted to enroll at Duke, where he played in 13 games as a true freshman, registering 22 tackles, including one for loss. He made one start.
In 2018, his role increased and he started 11 of 13 games, racking up 68 tackles and four passes defensed. He also recorded his first career interception.
In 2019 and 2020 he was a full-time starter with 73 tackles, seven passes defensed and two interceptions in 2019, and 71 tackles, seven tackles for loss and the first sack of his career in 2020.
After the 2020 season, Waters opted to enter the transfer portal and headed to Texas Tech as a graduate transfer. His first season with the Red Raiders was going well as he had a pick-six in his third game with the team. However, he suffered a season-ending injury in the next game.
Ahead of the 2022 season, Waters was able to successfully apply for a sixth year of eligibility and he had 60 tackles and was fifth in the Big 12 with 13 tackles for loss, despite only registering one sack. He earned recognition as an honorable mention all-Big 12 selection but was not invited to the scouting combine.
After going unselected in the 2023 draft, Waters had to settle for an undrafted free agent deal with the Jets. The contract includes $90K in guaranteed salary and a $10K signing bonus.
Now let’s take a look at what Waters brings to the table, divided into categories.
Waters has adequate size for a box safety role but lacks length and is actually under six-feet tall despite being listed at 6’1”.
He ran a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and posted a 37-inch vertical. However, his agility numbers were poor. He did manage a solid 21 bench press reps though.
Waters played a variety of roles over the course of his career. At Texas Tech his role in 2022 was at the “Star” position, which entails being a slot cornerback, a box safety or an outside linebacker depending on the situation. He only dropped into a conventional safety role a few times per game.
Prior to 2022, he still had a versatile role but dropped into a safety position a lot more often. He continues to be listed as a safety rather than a linebacker by the Jets.
Waters has played a bit of a limited role in coverage over the years, often operating in underneath zones. He doesn’t have outstanding range but can break on the ball. However, he can be a step slow when required to turn, drop or change direction.
He can stay with his man well on a crossing route but can struggle to stay with them if there’s a sharp break in the route.
His coverage numbers were not great, as opposing quarterbacks had a quarterback rating of over 100 when he was targeted and he gave up 10 touchdowns in his career. This was impacted by some big plays while he was at Duke though. He didn’t give up any 40-yard plays at Texas Tech.
He would probably fit best in a zone system at the NFL level because he’s at his best when he can keep the action in front of him and react.
Waters was called for one penalty for defensive pass interference and one for defensive holding in 2022.
Over the course of his career, Waters registered five interceptions and 25 passes defensed. He can jump a route and react well to compete for the ball down the field.
He can struggle to recover and get back into position to turn and locate the ball when covering down the field.
Waters packs a punch when hitting but still operates with good technique the majority of the time, wrapping up well and dragging ball carriers to the ground when tackling in space.
Despite this, he’s had a lot of missed tackles over the course of his career, including 20 in 2019 alone. He only had nine last year, his lowest total in a full season as a starter, though.
Run defense is Waters’ calling card, with Pro Football Focus giving him the third highest run defense grade in the nation for 2022. He’s been increasingly productive over the course of his career and makes a lot of tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Here’s a play where he shows good lateral pursuit and takes a good angle to the football to close for the stop in the backfield.
On this play, Waters shoots a gap to avoid the tight end’s block so he can trip the runner in the backfield.
He can get sealed off and blocked out of plays at the second level, but his gap integrity is generally solid.
In addition to being willing to attack ball carriers, Waters has proven that he is also not afraid to take on blockers which is impressive for a defensive back.
In coverage, he will often be employed in press coverage and can disrupt at the line of scrimmage and down the field.
As noted, he can be a big hitter, but there are also times where he will lose a collision and the ball carrier will fall forward at the end of a run.
Waters generally rushes the passer a handful of times per game and his pressure rate was solid, albeit nothing special. He only had two sacks in his career, one of which saw him drop initially but then come up to make the tackle when a quarterback tried to scramble. This was a good play though.
Waters seems to have the mentality to be a good special teamer but he only really covered kicks in his freshman season, registering seven tackles. Since then, he has just one special teams tackle, although he did block this kick.
He has also played regularly on the punt return units, typically rushing punts rather than playing as a vice.
Waters’ smarts have been lauded by his coaches and there are plenty of examples of him making a decisive read and exploding to the ball to make a play.
On this play, he reads the screen pass and gets away with a sneaky grab that enables him to blow it up.
One concern with Waters is that he can be over-aggressive, which can make him susceptible to play action or misdirection and can lead to him over-pursuing or running himself out of a play.
Despite this concern, he plays with discipline, has good vision and usually follows the ball well on read-action type plays.
At Duke there were a few plays where Waters was involved in a blown coverage that went for a big play, so communication or play recognition can be a concern.
He was a two-time all-ACC academic selection and a one-time all-Big 12 academic first teamer.
Waters jumped offside once last season.
Waters has been described as a natural leader by his coaches and has a ton of experience with 66 games played in his six seasons in college.
He’s been keen to continue to improve, which was part of the reason for transferring to a Big 12 team so he could face more high-powered passing offenses and get more experience in coverage.
His on-field discipline has been good with just six penalties in his career, three of which were last season.
Waters suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth game of the 2021 season. Other than that, he said that he has never missed a game due to injury at any level.
The injury was a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery after he tried to make an arm tackle on Bijan Robinson.
Waters has played a lot of different roles and the Jets may just be looking to try and figure out where he fits best. He doesn’t seem to have the skill-set to be a free safety or a cornerback but could play a box safety role and might even be a candidate to try out as a linebacker.
Safeties that contribute in run support are essential in the wide-nine system and Waters did this at an elite level in 2022, so that may be the main trait that they saw in him and they may seek to build his role around that.
Waters was one of the team’s less-heralded undrafted free agent pickups but he has some ability and could be a player that sticks around on the practice squad as a development project.
For him to make the main roster, he’s probably going to have to either excel on special teams or rely on injuries, but it will be interesting to see how he performs in preseason.